Since the summer of 2014, Mally Smith has been one of the backup singers in Ruby Rose Fox, collectively known as the Steinems, a riff on political activist and feminist Gloria Steinem. With one solo album under her belt, 2013’s Mally Smith & The Fertile Void, she’s returning this year with a bold new musical endeavor dubbed And I Glow. Spread across three EPs, the project will be disparate, yet all connected under the same title. One will be recorded in a professional studio – Productions in Rockland, MA – the second with bandmate John Nolan in his basement studio and the final culled from a live house show. Together, And I Glow will be comprised of 18 tracks.
Using the crowdfunding platform Indiegogo, Smith is aiming to raise 10K for expenses such as paying the people involved in making it happen, production costs and funding for publicity and a tour. Like many ventures of this nature, each tier comes with a different perk; from a download card to handwritten lyrics to postcards while on her UK tour this spring and even a private house concert, Smith has made it quite a tempting affair to donate to.
Vanyaland caught up with the Somerville-based singer/songwriter to discuss the challenges of the project, what role the current political climate plays in it and the well of emotions where Smith is drawing from to create the material.
Michael Christopher: What is the release cycle going to be like for And I Glow; are all of the EPs coming out at once?
Mally Smith: Yeah! It’s all coming out as one project; it’s three separate EPs, but I want them presented as one, whole piece of art. That’s an artistic choice, not really a business choice – I think probably if I had a business manager they would advise me otherwise, but I really want to showcase these three distinct layers of…me. How my songs and my words can shift and evolve when different attention is given to them, and yet they’re all still coming from the same place.
And it’s going to be all downloads or is there a physical component?
There will be a physical thing that comes with the three download cards. I’m really excited abotu this piece of the puzzle – really excited. I just chatted with a woman, her name is Maggie Cedarstrom, she’s a painter, and her art was up in Diesel Cafe for the past three or four months or so, and I completely fell in love with her aesthetic and her subject matter and just her style; I was really, really drawn to it. I reached out to her, randomly, and we’re going to collaborate on the artwork. What I’m envisioning is not quite vinyl-sized but 45-sized shaped, some sort of box or a book that unfolds into a piece of art that has a little envelope for the card and lyrics – it’s going to house it. Like the way it would hold a record, but it’s going to hold a card.
So not a tiny thing.
No – no, no – not a tiny thing. I want something that’s worthy of being put on a wall. I want it to be looked at. One of the things I love about the vinyl medium is seeing what artists choose to represent their songs.
You’ve made this whole project so much about art; as opposed to just going into a studio and banging out a bunch of songs, even in the way it’s presented with three distinct styles. Tell me about what the artistic approach means to you – as an artist.
It means everything to me. I write songs because I need to. And I do music because it’s how I function and process and learn and grow and move on. So my choices around this project are completely rooted in the art and the songs themselves, what serves the songs and what serves me as an artist.
One of the scary part of my songs is they’re really honest; it feels a lot like I’m giving over a diary and being like, “Here…here’s what I’ve been writing about in secret for the past four years.”
Where are you getting the inspiration for the material?
It’s all from my life. So much of what I write about is rooted in love and love lost and love experienced and not only love in the romantic traditional sense, but love for myself and that journey. Figuring out how to love who I am and what I am and honestly express that, but then also love in partnership, love in friendship, witnessing others love…it’s very much rooted in my personal experience. One of the scary part of my songs is they’re really honest; it feels a lot like I’m giving over a diary and being like, “Here…here’s what I’ve been writing about in secret for the past four years.”
What’s been the most enjoyable part of this undertaking?
My bandmate and I have done one basement session, and that has been the most fun. I love working with people who hear my music and it resonates with them in some way and they hear it differently than how I hear it. that teaches me about the songs and about myself and pushes me off to the edge and challenges me a lot. And my John has pushed me to try things that I love and that I would never try by myself, and I love that. I love that.
Your first LP was about a breakup; it was very honest, very exposed. Do you ever get worried you’re putting too much of yourself out there?
Yes! [laughs] The answer is an emphatic yes! But there’s no other way for me to write music. And the music that I’m most drawn to is the honest, exposing, raw stuff.
How does it feel, as far as your confidence goes, from stepping out as a part of Ruby Rose Fox, to now where you are the main focus?
I think Ruby and the Steinems came into my life at a really important time. There’s something incredibly powerful and magical about singing with a bunch of women, and particularly Ruby’s songs, which are, I mean, talk about “honest” and “raw” songwriting, she’s very skilled at that. It’s been a huge confidence boost to get up and sing somebody else’s honesty, but it’s totally different when it’s yours. I feel like I’ve changed a lot as a performer since the first album, and still have those nerves and uncertainty of it just being me. It’s like, “Ahhhh!” – it’s scary.
How well do you think the medium of crowdfunding works for musicians?
I think there are real pros and cons to it. It’s very liberating to be able to fund your own album and fund it through people who would buy the album anyway, people who want to support local music and be a part of the community and part of the creation. I also think it can be very tricky, because everyone does it. Speaking for myself, every couple weeks, a friend is making a new thing. that being said, when my friends are making new things, I want to be a part of it. It’s a really interesting process asking, really it’s your family and friends, for money to make art, particularly given the political climate where there’s a lot of things that people can be donating money to that feel bigger than just some album you’re going to make. But the reality is, what we need in this political climate is people creating and speaking their truth. That artistic community creates connection and it drives hope and sparks conversation.
So many artists shy away from politics. But it’s almost like at this current time, you can’t shy away from the subject. You have been so forthright with how you feel about things; much of it is based on “resist” and “make art” and women being empowered. Playing devil’s advocate, there’s a part of that which can work against you.
Sure there’s fear. I can’t deny that sometimes it goes through my head, “Oh god, what are people going to think?” Like, what if I post a song that’s politically aggressive and somebody says something mean to me or…I’m an opinionated and empowered female, and I have thin skin – my feelings can definitely get hurt, for sure. So that fear is there, and fuck it. I have been living in comfort and privilege for 30 years as a white person and I don’t want to live there anymore. I don’t care to be a part of the population that stays quiet just because they’re afraid of discomfort. And if it hurts my career or my musical trajectory, that’s ok. I’d rather know I stood up for something that I believe in and I spoke loudly. I’d rather be able to tell my grand-kids someday that I was a part of something that really mattered.
What would you say to someone who is too fearful to put themselves out there?
I would tell them to reach out and have conversations with people. President Obama said it, he said to stop talking on Facebook about stuff and meet in real life and have conversations. I think particularly in the white liberal community, we forget that there are minorities who have been blazing this trail of resistance for years and years and years. There’s so many people who have been fighting already, and those are the people you can connect to and ask questions of and engage in and learn from and remember that you are not alone. You just have to plug into the right place.
Three words, for anyone unfamiliar with you, at this moment in time, that describe Mally Smith.
Honest. Vast. Simple.
One of the things I have been thinking about and writing about a lot is this sense of equal truths. “I am lonely, and I am very happy in my solitude.” Those things exist at the same time as equal truths. And I am simple, and I am not at all, and those things exist at the same time.
So you’re not simple, you’re a contradiction.
But there’s a falsehood to that word, like it’s something that’s not true – and that’s not what I mean. I am opposites…it’s equal truths is what they are.